Playboy was more than a magazine filled with pictures of nude women and advice on how to mix the perfect martini. Indeed, the magazine's vision of sexual liberation, high living, and "the good life" came to define mainstream images of postwar life. In exploring the history of America's most widely read and influential men's magazine, Elizabeth Fraterrigo hones in on the values, style, and gender formulations put forth in its pages and how they gained widespread currency in American culture. She shows that for Hugh Hefner, the "good life" meant the freedom to choose a lifestyle, and the one he promoted was the "playboy life," in which expensive goods and sexually available women were plentiful, obligations were few, and if one worked hard enough, one could enjoy abundant leisure and consumption. In support of this view, Playboy attacked early marriage, traditional gender arrangements, and sanctions against premarital sex, challenging the conservatism of family-centered postwar society. And despite the magazine's ups and downs, significant features of this "playboy life" have become engrained in American society.
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Elizabeth Fraterrigo is Assistant Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago.
Playboy, the magazine and its philosophy, has had its fair share of both critics and defenders over the years. Fraterrigo, a history professor, is neither. She places Hugh Hefner’s magazine and the lifestyle it promoted in their social and historical context. In college, Hefner majored in psychology, minoring in creative writing and art; he briefly studied sociology in graduate school. After spending some years working for various magazines, he decided to launch his own, something new, exciting, titillating, and literary, promoting personal freedom and the idea of a less-restrictive society. Lofty ambitions, perhaps, for what many have written off as a “skin mag,” but Hefner set to his mission with great passion, and the result, Fraterrigo shows us, was a magazine that changed the world. This is an insightful and carefully reasoned book, even-handed and analytic but without being stodgy. Fraterrigo avoids the usual pitfalls, steering clear (for the most part) of the tiresome pornography-versus-literature debate. Playboy, she argues, broke down a lot of barriers that desperately needed breaking down; as an agent of social change, it was groundbreaking and important. --David Pitt
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